This past Saturday was Family Day at The Seeing Eye, Inc. As a puppy raiser and a former employee, Family Day has always been my favorite day. As an employee, the work to put the day together: the programs, signage, logistics, etc., is done. You can relax and visit with the families (and have free ice cream). As a puppy raiser, you get to be on campus at The Seeing Eye, Inc. You can tour the campus, attend educational workshops, watch dog demos, meet instructors, eat ice cream, and maybe even get a glimpse of your recently returned puppy.
I had an interesting vantage point this year at a dog demo. I was standing across the obstacle course from the family who raised the dog being used in the demo. Simultaneously, I could watch the dog working the course, showing what he had learned to keep his person safe, while also watching the family who raised him. The dog, a female German Shepherd, was completely focused on her instructor. The love they shared was undeniable. Bursting with pride, the puppy raiser watched the demo with tears running down her face, hand clenched to her chest, recording every minute of the milestone event. I was that person at Family Day 1998. The first puppy we raised was being used in the dog demo. I knew what this woman was feeling. I could almost feel the lump that was surely filling her throat. She will leave Family Day with a new perspective on puppy raising. If she hasn’t already requested a new puppy, I’m sure she did first thing Monday morning.
But the best part to me, both as an employee and a volunteer, is listening to the graduate speakers. This year was no different. The speakers were not just technically excellent speakers, but they were inspirational as well. Everyone listening to their stories had to leave inspired–maybe even willing to raise puppies as long as possible. We heard graduates talk about the difference their dog has made in their lives. One woman said her identity changed. She went from “the blind lady” to “the lady with the dog.” It seems counterintuitive, but getting a Seeing Eye Dog removed her handicap, as far as the public was concerned. Another speaker shared how he is able to travel independently, not just around his home in New York City, but around the world, including Brazil and Paris. He often said, “It’s all because of the dog.”
As a puppy raiser, sometimes you wonder if this rambunctious, silly puppy will really be any good to anyone. As an employee, I was very aware that often the most challenging puppy to raise turns out to be the best Seeing Eye dog. They channel all that energy into their work, and end up guiding a blind person through the streets of a foreign city, having never been there before, flawlessly, with great confidence. It is a transition that never gets old. Every year, Family Day retells the story of why we do what we do. I know from experience that as puppy raisers left The Seeing Eye on Saturday and arrived back home, they had a new appreciation for the puppy in their care (even if it piddled a little or chewed something). “It’s okay, you’ll do great things…someday.”
Our own #22 is currently in training at The Seeing Eye, Inc. We didn’t see him in the kennel, but a friend did. She reported that he was sitting atop the plastic jungle gym. Of course, he was. I didn’t take any pictures on Saturday, so I stole this one from a puppy raiser friend. She had the same experience I already described, watching this former puppy at a demo. I hope the lump in her throat disappeared before the ice cream truck arrived.